Kansas' Early Bass Outlook

It's never too early to start thinking about another year of bass fishing -- or actually catching bass! This advice should help you with both endeavors. (February 2009)

This story's title is a bit misleading. If you're just now thinking about a new bass fishing season in Kansas, you're actually kind of late. There is some good bassin' to be had right now in the Sunflower State.

La Cygne Reservoir, a power-plant lake about an hour's drive south of greater Kansas City, is home to a year-round growing season for bass because of the hot-water outlet that releases water from the power-generating station back into the lake. Bass there have favorable water temperatures throughout the coldest part of a year, and they respond by giving winter anglers a real treat.

If you can't stop thinking about catching a largemouth on a shallow-diving crankbait or on a spinnerbait fished along shoreline cover, then you need to hook up the boat and head for La Cygne. When I moved to Kansas more than 25 years ago, the first keeper-sized largemouth I ever caught hit a little crankbait in less than 4 feet of water on La Cygne -- in February! I'll never forget noticing little bits of ice flying off the line guides on my rod when that 17-incher hit with reckless abandon. I forgot about how cold it was!

The outlook on La Cygne is good right now. And the forecast for the rest of the Sunflower State's bass fishery is positive, too, as the new season unfolds.

"Our bass fishery is not bad at all," said Kyle Austin, a fisheries biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "The dynamics change a little bit from year to year; that's inevitable. But statewide, I believe this season is going to be pretty good."

You may be a bit surprised at the reservoirs Austin tabbed as being at the top of Kansas' 2009 list of bass destinations. Joining perennial bass hotspot Hillsdale are Cedar Bluff and Sebelius reservoirs. Sebelius, in particular, surprised me.

"It's one of our western lakes that does suffer a bit of a yo-yo effect because of water level dynamics," Austin acknowledged. "But it really is a fish factory. It's part of a very productive watershed -- one of the better ones in the state, actually -- and you can always catch fish there."

Although this story is about bass, it's worth noting that Austin applied that statement to all of the lake's game fish, which also include wipers and saugeyes. "The key at Sebelius, as on pretty much all of our western lakes, is maintaining the water level," Austin said. "We are working on some things that will help us achieve more consistent lake levels there, and we believe that will only make a good fishery better."

He noted that Sebelius also suffers through some less-than-productive shad spawns, and that also affects the fishery because of a lack of food. There may be times when anglers catch bass that don't look so healthy because they don't have the forage base they enjoy in other seasons. That also contributes to the yo-yo effect.

At Cedar Bluff, the KDWP's move to obtain the lake's water rights has helped make it one of the state's better bass destinations, both in quantity and quality. Austin noted that here, as at every other lake in the state, evaporation in hot weather can drop the lake as much as 4 to 5 feet. This is especially true when inflow is low. However, Cedar Bluff gets through those times well and will offer some good action again this season.

The other reservoir is Hillsdale, which ought to surprise anyone because of its location. With consistently good bass fishing within easy reach of anglers in the state's -- and one of the region's -- major population centers, Hillsdale annually handles lots of fishing pressure. But its bass fishery really hasn't dropped off much over the years. Austin believes he knows why.

"Hillsdale is still relatively young (it filled for the first time in the early 1980s), so its habitat remains good. Habitat is a key to sustaining a quality bass fishery," he added, "and Hillsdale has some of the best habitat around."

Catch-and-release also is a major factor. "That plays a big role on any bass lake," Austin said. "Those lakes like Hillsdale that provide good habitat for anglers who practice catch-and-release are going to be consistently good when it comes to bass fishing -- not just in Kansas, but anywhere."

When asked more specifically about Kansas bass reservoirs that should offer good chances for trophy largemouths this season, Austin modified his list, but only slightly.

This year, your big-water big-bass destinations should include -- in alphabetical order -- Cedar Bluff, Hillsdale and La Cygne.

This year, your big-water big-bass destinations should include -- in alphabetical order -- Cedar Bluff, Hillsdale and La Cygne.

"We consistently sample bass in the 7- to 8-pound range at La Cygne," he said. "That year-round growing season is the major reason for that.

"At Cedar Bluff, we also sample numbers of bass in the 5- to 7-pound range, so it is a good destination for folks who want to try for a big bass. Hillsdale has big bass, too." Each lake has a character all its own, which adds to the enjoyment and challenge.

Speaking of challenge, maybe you should challenge yourself to visit some of Kansas' smaller bass lakes this season. If you're not doing that, you're missing out on some great action -- and the chance to catch some big bass.

"When it comes to our smaller state and community lakes," Austin said, "Sheridan State Fishing Lake, Pottawatomie State Fishing Lake No. 1 and Garnet City Lake are great places to go if you want to catch good numbers of bass." Samplings completed on those waters showed high densities of bass at least 12 inches long. Those are the kinds of lakes where you can take youngsters and angling newcomers of any age when just catching bass is more important than hooking a real trophy.

That being said, two of those three also have their fair share of good-sized bass.

"Pottawatomie No.'‚1 actually has a pretty high density of bass in the 4-pound range," he said. A bass that size is probably going to push 20 inches, a truly nice fish, no matter how long you've been chasing them.

He also said that Garnet City Lake and Banner Creek Lake at Holton are homes to fairly high densities of bass in the 15-inch range, so keepers should be part of any vis

it to either of those lakes.

When it comes to largemouth bass, any state forecast would be incomplete without mention of the Mined Land Wildlife Area in southeast Kansas. Several parcels of public land make up the MLWA, and all of them have strip mine pits that hold good numbers of chunky largemouths.

You shouldn't expect to catch a monster in one of these pits, but many of them will provide excellent numbers of fish in the 1- to 2-pound range. They are among the feistiest of largemouths that call Kansas home, and practically all of the pits can be covered effectively from shore.

That's also the case with the Sunflower State's myriad of farm ponds, and the bass outlook for them should be good again this season, too. If you have access to one or more Kansas bass pothole, plan on making some visits as soon as late-winter temperatures start warming a bit. You might be surprised at the kind of fishing you can enjoy early in the year, and more than a few of those ponds have some real bruisers cruising their depths.

You also shouldn't forget about the state's smallmouth bass fishery. Austin targeted Coffee County Lake -- another hot-water power-plant lake like La Cygne -- Milford and Wilson reservoirs as the top large impoundments for smallmouths. "I wouldn't overlook Glen Elder, either," he added. "It's not plumb full of smallmouths, but there are areas on the lake where we consistently find good numbers of smallmouths."

Geary State Fishing Lake and Pony Creek at Sabetha are more diminutive Kansas lakes that offer anglers a chance at catching smallmouths. Nothing is more fun than hooking a mean ol' smallmouth, regardless of the size of the lake. As you plan your fishing calendar for the year, keep that in mind and try to set aside some time for smallmouths.

By the time you read this, there will be some decent bass fishing available in the Sunflower State. La Cygne, as mentioned, will provide some great largemouth action now because of its warm water. Coffee County ought to be doing the same for anglers after smallmouth bass.

It won't be too much longer before the rest of the Sunflower State's best bass waters start to warm with the approach of spring, and that is going to get their resident bass moving around and acting more aggressive. Given the high cost of gas and diesel fuel, it's reassuring to know that good bass fishing is to be had throughout the state.

You shouldn't have to travel far to catch a keeper this season. And that's definitely good news.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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